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George Washington.
I

INTRODUCTION

George Washington (1732-1799), first president of the United States (1789-1797) and one of the most important leaders in United States history. His role in gaining
independence for the American colonies and later in unifying them under the new U.S. federal government cannot be overestimated. Laboring against great difficulties,
he created the Continental Army, which fought and won the American Revolution (1775-1783), out of what was little more than an armed mob. After an eight-year
struggle, his design for victory brought final defeat to the British at Yorktown, Virginia, and forced Great Britain to grant independence to its overseas possession.
With victory won, Washington was the most revered man in the United States. A lesser person might have used this power to establish a military dictatorship or to
become king. Washington sternly suppressed all such attempts on his behalf by his officers and continued to obey the weak and divided Continental Congress. However,
he never ceased to work for the union of the states under a strong central government. He was a leading influence in persuading the states to participate in the
Constitutional Convention, over which he presided, and he used his immense prestige to help gain ratification of its product, the Constitution of the United States.
Although worn out by years of service to his country, Washington reluctantly accepted the presidency of the United States. Probably no other man could have
succeeded in welding the states into a lasting union. Washington fully understood the significance of his presidency. "I walk on untrodden ground," he said. "There is
scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn in precedent." During eight years in office, Washington laid down the guidelines for future
presidents.
Washington lived only two years after turning over the presidency to his successor, John Adams. The famous tribute by General Henry Lee, "first in war, first in peace,
and first in the hearts of his countrymen," accurately reflected the emotions that Washington's death aroused. Later generations have crowned this tribute with the
simple title "Father of His Country."

II

EARLY LIFE

George Washington was born on his father's estate in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on February 22, 1732. He was the eldest son of a well-to-do Virginia farmer,
Augustine Washington, by his second wife, Mary Ball. The Washington family was descended from two brothers, John and Lawrence Washington, who emigrated from
England to Virginia in 1657. The family's rise to modest wealth in three generations was the result of steady application to farming, land buying, and development of
local industries.
Young George seems to have received most of his schooling from his father and, after the father's death in 1743, from his elder half-brother Lawrence. The boy had a
liking for mathematics, and he applied it to acquiring a knowledge of surveying, which was a skill greatly in demand in a country where people were seeking new lands
in the West. For the Virginians of that time the West meant chiefly the upper Ohio River valley. Throughout his life, George Washington maintained a keen interest in
the development of these western lands, and from time to time he acquired properties there.
George grew up a tall, strong young man, who excelled in outdoor pursuits, liked music and theatrical performances, and was a trifle awkward with girls but fond of
dancing. His driving force was the ambition to gain wealth and eminence and to do well whatever he set his hand to.
His first real adventure as a boy was accompanying a surveying party to the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia and descending the Shenandoah River by canoe.
An earlier suggestion that he should be sent to sea seems to have been discouraged by his uncle Joseph Ball, who described the prospects of an unknown colonial youth
in the British Navy of that day as such that "he had better be put apprentice to a tinker."When he was 17 he was appointed surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia, the
first public office he held.
In 1751 George had his first and only experience of foreign lands when he accompanied his half-brother Lawrence to the island of Barbados in the West Indies.
Lawrence was desperately ill with tuberculosis and thought the climate might help, but the trip did him little good. Moreover, George was stricken with smallpox. He
bore the scars from the disease for the rest of his life. Fortunately this experience gave him immunity to the disease, which was later to decimate colonial troops during
the American Revolution.

III EARLY CAREER
A Militia Officer
Lawrence died in 1752. Under the terms of his will, George soon acquired the beautiful estate of Mount Vernon, in Fairfax County, one of six farms then held by the
Washington family interests. Also, the death of his beloved half-brother opened another door to the future. Lawrence had held the post of adjutant in the colonial militia.
This was a full-time salaried appointment, carrying the rank of major, and involved the inspection, mustering, and regulation of various militia companies. Washington
seems to have been confident he could make an efficient adjutant at the age of 20, though he was then without military experience. In November 1752 he was
appointed adjutant of the southern district of Virginia by Governor Robert Dinwiddie.

A1

First Mission

During the following summer, Virginia was alarmed by reports that a French expedition from Canada was establishing posts on the headwaters of the Ohio River and
seeking to make treaties with the Native American peoples. Governor Dinwiddie received orders from Britain to demand an immediate French withdrawal, and Major
Washington promptly volunteered to carry the governor's message to the French commander. His ambition at this time was to secure royal preference for a commission
in the regular British army, and this expedition promised to bring him to the king's attention.
Washington took with him a skillful and experienced frontiersman, Christopher Gist, together with an interpreter and four other men. Reaching the forks of the Ohio, he
found that the French had withdrawn northward for the winter. After inconclusive negotiations with the Native Americans living there, who were members of the
Iroquois Confederacy, he pressed on and finally delivered Dinwiddie's message to the French commander at Fort Le Boeuf, not far from Lake Erie. The answer was polite
but firm: The French were there to stay. Returning, Washington reached Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia, to deliver this word to the governor in mid-January 1754,
having made a hard wilderness journey of more than 1600 km (1000 mi) in less than three months. With his report he submitted a map of his route and a strong
recommendation that an English fort be erected at the forks of the Ohio as quickly as possible, before the French returned to that strategic position in the spring.
Dinwiddie, who was himself a large stockholder in companies exploiting western lands, acted promptly on this suggestion. He sent William Trent with a small force to
start building the fort. Major Washington was to raise a column of 200 men to follow and reinforce the advance party.

A2

Promotion

This was Washington's first experience with the difficulties of raising troops while lacking equipment, clothing, and funds. Apparently he thought his efforts worthy of
some recognition and successfully applied to Dinwiddie for a lieutenant colonel's commission. He left Alexandria, Virginia, early in April with about 150 poorly equipped
and half-trained troops.

A3

First Battles

Before he had advanced very far, Washington received news that the French had driven Trent's men back from the Ohio forks. He did not turn back, but pushed on to
establish an advanced position from which, when reinforced, he hoped to turn the tables. He set part of his men to work building a log stockade, which he named Fort
Necessity. On May 27, 1754, he surprised a French force in the woods and routed it after a short battle. The French commander, Ensign Joseph Coulon, Sieur de
Jumonville, was killed in the clash, and Washington took prisoners back to Fort Necessity. He had won his first victory.
The French, on hearing of Jumonville's death, sent out a larger force. Unfortunately for Washington, these troops reached Fort Necessity before he had received either
the men or the supplies he expected from Virginia. On July 3 the fort was attacked by the French and some Iroquois who had allied with them, beginning what would be
called the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The fort did not have the soldiers or arms to hold out. However, the French offered surrender terms that were not
humiliating: The Virginians were to abandon the fort and withdraw to their own settlements, leaving two hostages for good faith. Washington's papers and journal were
taken, and he was to sign a surrender document. Washington accepted the terms on July 4 after the surrender document was translated for him and did not appear to
contain any offensive statements.
Back in Williamsburg, Washington had become famous. The victory over Jumonville was applauded, and he was not blamed for surrendering his fort to superior forces.
The expedition was written up in a British magazine and thereby came to the attention of the king, George II. The magazine quoted Washington as saying that he found
"something charming" in the sound of the bullets whizzing past his head at the Jumonville skirmish. At this the king remarked, "He would not say so if he had been used
to hear many."
There were two repercussions that caused Washington some regrets. First, he found that his translator had been mistaken. An accurate translation of the surrender
document showed it to contain the phrase "assassination of Sieur de Jumonville," implying that Washington had killed the French commander dishonorably. Secondly,
the French published a translation of Washington's journal. But it was heavily edited and the emphasis changed to make it appear that the French soldiers were merely
on a diplomatic mission. Representatives of King George inquired into the matter but were satisfied that Washington had acted correctly. He was not held to account for
the mistake of his translator.

B

Aide-de-Camp

Washington had succeeded in getting the king's attention, but he did not get the royal commission he hoped for. The king's military advisers, while admitting his
"courage and resolution," believed that officers in the British regular army were better qualified to lead troops against the French. Later in 1754, the Virginia military
was reorganized in accordance with that opinion, now made policy: Regular army officers coming from Britain would now have command over officers who held colonial
commissions. This meant that Washington might find himself reporting to officers he outranked and who had less experience than he had. Finding that possibility
intolerable, he resigned his commission. However, a strong British force under Major General Edward Braddock arrived early in 1755 with orders to drive the French
from Fort Duquesne, which they had built at the forks of the Ohio. Washington's local military reputation was such that Braddock invited him to join the staff as a
volunteer aide-de-camp.
The advance was slow, and the British soldiers were not at their best in forest warfare. On July 9, 1755, the column was surprised and routed by the French and their
Native American allies, only 11 km (7 mi) from Fort Duquesne. The British troops, in Washington's words, were "immediately struck with such a deadly Panick that
nothing but confusion prevail'd amongst them." Braddock was mortally wounded. Washington did his best to try to rally the regulars and to use a few Virginia troops to
cover the retreat. His coolness and bravery under fire enhanced his reputation.

B1

Militia Commander

The western frontier of Virginia was now dangerously exposed, and in August 1755, Governor Dinwiddie appointed Washington commander in chief of all the colony's
troops, with the rank of colonel. For the next three years, Washington struggled with the bitter and endless problems of frontier defense. He never had enough
resources to establish more than a patchwork of security, but he acquired valuable experience in the conduct of war with the logistical and political problems peculiar to
American conditions. In the fall of 1758 he had the satisfaction of commanding a Virginia regiment under British General John Forbes, who recovered Fort Duquesne
from the French and renamed it Fort Pitt.
With Virginia's strategic objective attained, Colonel Washington resigned his commission and turned his attention to the quieter life of a Virginia planter. In January 1759
he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a charming and wealthy young widow.

C

Virginia Planter

As a planter, Washington showed eager interest in improving the productivity of his fields and the quality of his livestock. He read all available works on progressive
agriculture and constantly experimented in crop rotation. He invested in new implements and used new methods and fertilizers. He found that planting only tobacco, the
chief cash crop of Virginia, did not pay. It was too dependent on the weather, the state of the British market, and the honesty of the British agents who managed the
overseas end of the transactions. He developed fisheries, increased his production of wheat, set up a mill and an ironworks, and taught his slaves cloth-weaving and
other handicrafts.

C1

The Mature Washington

During his years as a gentleman farmer, Washington matured from an ambitious youth into the patriarch of the Washington clan and a solid member of Virginia society.
He remained somewhat shy and reserved throughout his life. He was sensitive and emotional, with a violent temper that he usually held firmly in check. But most of all
he was a man of great personal dignity. His connection with the wealthy and powerful Fairfax family, through his half-brother Lawrence's marriage, perhaps as much as
his own energies, made him a wealthy landowner and, from 1759 to 1774, a member of the House of Burgesses, the lower chamber of the Virginia legislature. In all, as
Washington prospered and his responsibilities grew, his character was enriched and grew to keep pace.
Washington's perspective broadened, and he became involved in the protests of Virginians against the restrictions of British rule. He became yearly more convinced that
the king's ministers and British merchants and financiers regarded Americans as inferior and sought to control "our whole substance." His wartime experience had given

him ample evidence of the contempt felt by British military men for colonial officers. Now he began to see the deepening division between the true interests of the
American people and the view held of those interests in Britain. As a member of the House of Burgesses he opposed such measures as the 1765 Stamp Act, which
imposed a tax on the colonies without consulting them, and he foresaw that British policy was moving toward doing away with self-government in America altogether.
Washington's anti-British feelings were strengthened by the introduction of the Townshend Acts in 1767. These acts imposed more unpopular taxes. His voice joined in
Virginia's decision in 1770 to retaliate by banning taxable British goods from the colony. His belief in the colonies' right of free action resounds in his words written to
Virginia statesman George Mason: "... as a last resource ...Americans should be prepared to take up arms to defend their ancestral liberties from the inroads of our
lordly Masters in Great Britain."

C2

Political Leader

By 1774, when the spirit of American resistance was well developed, Washington had become one of the key Virginians supporting the colonial cause. He was elected to
the First Continental Congress, an assembly of delegates from the colonies to decide on actions to take against Britain. Although he did not enter much into debate, his
viewpoint was uniformly sound and acceptable. However, he knew that more than paper resolutions would be needed to safeguard American liberties, and he spent the
winter of 1774 and 1775 organizing militia companies in Virginia.
When Washington attended the Second Continental Congress in May 1775, he appeared in the blue and buff uniform of the Fairfax County militia. These colors were
later adopted for the army of the colonies, called the Continental Army. As he entered the hall, the country was already ringing with the news from Massachusetts,
where the battles at Lexington and Concord had been fought, and the only British army in the colonies was besieged in Boston by the militia of the surrounding towns
(see American Revolution).

IV

GENERAL OF THE CONTINENTAL ARMY

On June 15, 1775, the Continental Congress unanimously elected George Washington as general and commander in chief of its army. He was chosen for two basic
reasons. First, he was respected for his military abilities, his selflessness, and his strong commitment to colonial freedom. Secondly, Washington was a Virginian, and it
was hoped that his appointment would bind the Southern colonies more closely to the rebellion in New England. Congressman John Adams of Massachusetts was the
moving spirit in securing the command for Washington. He realized that, although the war had begun in Massachusetts, success could come only if all 13 colonies were
united in their protest and in their willingness to fight.
On June 25, 1775, Washington set out for Massachusetts, and on July 3, he halted his horse under an elm on the common in Cambridge, drew his sword, and formally
took command of the Continental Army. In his general order of the following day, Washington's emphasis was on unity: "... it is to be hoped that all distinction of
colonies will be laid aside, so that one and the same spirit may animate the whole, and the only contest be, who shall render, on this great and trying occasion, the most
essential service to the common cause in which we are all engaged." To this high ideal of unity in a common cause, Washington remained unswervingly loyal through
many trials and disappointments. Indeed, he was to become the living symbol of a national unity that at times seemed to have little actual substance.

A

Building an Army

Washington found his army in high spirits due to the heavy losses inflicted on the British troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17. He was pleased at what had
been done toward entrenching the semicircular American front, but he was appalled at the disorganization and lack of discipline among his soldiers and the officers'
ignorance of their duties. Also, he soon realized that the term of service of most of his men was soon to expire, producing for him the double task of trying to train one
army while raising another to take its place.
Washington began at once to impress these difficulties on Congress, pointing to the need for longer terms of enlistment. He asked for better pay, which alone could
induce men to enlist for the necessary term. Almost immediately he came up against Congress's fear that a standing army would bring with it the peril of a military
dictatorship. The legislators only gradually understood that the immediate peril of political dictatorship by the king's ministers was much more real than a possible future
threat of a military dictator.
However, Washington did the best he could with the available means. He took stern measures to restore discipline. Insubordination and desertion were punished by
flogging with the cat-o'-nine-tails. A few deserters, especially those who repeated the offense, were hanged. The worst problem of supply was the shortage of
gunpowder. It hampered all of Washington's plans for months, and appeals to neighboring colonies brought little help.

A1

Siege of Boston

Meanwhile, the only British army in North America remained cooped up in Boston throughout the winter. There was no real fighting, but Washington was preparing a
surprise for Sir William Howe, the British commander. During the winter 50 heavy cannon from the captured British Fort Ticonderoga in northern New York were
dragged by sled to Boston. In a brilliant move, Washington mounted the cannon on Dorchester Heights, which commanded the city. Howe, recognizing that his position
was untenable, evacuated the city by sea on March 17, 1776. From there the British went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Howe awaited reinforcements from across the
Atlantic. The rebellious American colonies were, for the time being, entirely free of British troops.

A2

Appeal to Congress

Amid much public praise and rejoicing, Washington arrived in New York City, which was the obvious objective of the British forces now gathering in Nova Scotia. Having
seen to the immediate measures necessary for the defense of that city, he proceeded to Philadelphia with the aim of persuading Congress to rectify the enlistment
situation. This time he came in the bright glow of victory, which gave authority to his arguments.
Congress not only authorized three-year enlistments for the future, but also voted bounties for the enlistees. In addition, a permanent Board of War and Ordnance was
created to deal with military matters in place of the makeshift committees that had previously held this responsibility. However, these measures, although wise, proved
of no immediate help to Washington in meeting what was then his chief military problem: the forthcoming British attack on New York City.

B War in the North
B1 Battle of Long Island
British ships carrying the first units of Howe's army of 20,000 arrived in New York Bay on June 29, 1776, and the troops began landing on Staten Island. By mid-August
the British force, which included German mercenaries (soldiers serving merely for the pay), had increased to more than 30,000, backed by a powerful naval squadron.

Howe moved slowly, and this gave Washington time to gather a considerable force of militia from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Even so, his total strength
was not more than 18,000, and at least half of these had little or no training.
Washington feared that Howe's opening move might be to send ships straight up the Hudson River to land a strong force behind the city. However, the British general
chose to begin his operations by landing on Long Island. The only American fortifications there were at Brooklyn Heights, covering the approaches to the East River and
Manhattan Island. Some 9000 American troops, about half of Washington's total force, were on Long Island when 20,000 British and German troops began landing at
Gravesend Bay on August 22. About 4000 of the Americans were deployed well in front of the Brooklyn Heights fortifications to observe and delay the enemy's
progress.
These troop placements have been more severely criticized than any other military act of Washington's career, since they exposed his army to the danger of being
destroyed piece by piece. Howe, moving deliberately, made a surprise attack on the 4000 men in forward positions and hurled them back in headlong flight to Brooklyn
Heights, with the loss of more than one-third of their number. Had Howe instantly followed through by throwing his whole force against the American lines on the
heights, he would certainly have overwhelmed them, and Washington would have lost half his army. However, by not doing so, he gave Washington a chance to
retrieve his original error, a chance Washington seized and exploited (see Long Island, Battle of).
During the next 24 hours, working desperately against time--for at any moment the British warships might block his line of retreat--Washington gathered all the
barges, boats, and small craft he could and assigned men from Colonel Glover's Massachusetts regiment to operate them. During the night of August 29, under
Washington's personal command and direction, the entire American force on Long Island, with all its stores, artillery, and equipment, was ferried across the East River
to Manhattan without a single casualty.

B2

Retreat North

Thus Washington brilliantly redeemed his original error, and his later conduct of the war showed that he was fully capable of learning from experience. Never again did
he offer battle to a British army under conditions that denied him full freedom of action to preserve his own army should the battle turn against him. Howe finally
decided to occupy New York City on September 15. To avoid being outflanked, Washington fell back and fought delaying actions at Harlem Heights and then, in
October, at White Plains (see White Plains, Battle of).
During the last two months of 1776, Washington was in constant retreat. He stationed a force under Major General Heath near West Point, New York, to guard the vital
entrance to the highlands of New York state. He then withdrew across the Hudson into New Jersey and moved slowly southwestward to the Delaware River at Trenton.
There he collected all available boats and crossed the river into Pennsylvania on December 8, just as the advance guard of the pursuing British column entered the
town.
This was the darkest hour of the new American republic. Howe proclaimed complete victory. Congress shared his view and fled south from Philadelphia to Baltimore.
Washington, with only a remnant of his army, some 3000 men, seemed already defeated and of no further account.

B3

Battle of Trenton

On December 13, 1776, Major General Charles Lee was captured in New Jersey by a British patrol. The command of his troops passed to Brigadier General John
Sullivan, who immediately marched south to join Washington. This raised the commander's total force to about 6000. Thus reinforced, Washington planned a victory
that would electrify the entire country. The British had pulled back most of their troops to winter in New York City, leaving scattered garrisons of German mercenaries in
New Jersey. These German troops were called Hessians because most of them were hired from the German state of Hessen-Kassel. The nearest of these Hessian
garrisons to Washington's camp was at Trenton and consisted of about 1200 men. Washington decided to capture this force and set the morning of December 26 for


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